Thursday, July 29, 2010

Life Time friends

 The start of my junior high school education turned out also to be the starting point of my life-time friendship with Tao Si-Chien (陶世健). It turns out that this class #6 was quite outstanding in many aspects; I will talk about this class as a whole later.  Taotze (陶子), as I usually call him (both then and now) lived one train station after mine on the way to school, which was very close. We saw each other daily during those three years, not only during school days, but also many weekends and holidays too. Since we lived so close, we also ate many meals together at each other’s homes. To think back, it is amazing that after we left junior high school, having gone to different senior high schools, (he went to Fushin, I went to Chengkung), and then different colleges, (he went to National Ocean University, I went to National Taiwan University), our friendship remained strong. We continued to meet regularly during holidays and other occasions such as our winter and summer vacations, to keep our friendship alive. During our college days, we spent quite a lot of time together talking about girls, girlfriends, and our philosophy of LIFE, as well. We went to church together, were baptized on the same day, had doubts about our faith in a similar fashion. We talked in Sichuanese, a special dialect of Chinese familiar to those people who grew up during the period of the Japanese War. We ate at many stands along the roadside, and we certainly went swimming together at the Water-Source-Place. We rode bicycles everywhere, including rushing to downtown to catch a movie at the last minute. Time or distance does not seem to affect our relationship.
This is a picture taken during our junior high days very near to Taotze’s home:
Wow, we were so serious!
 In 1963, Taotze came to Johnson City, Tennessee to see me; we took this picture at the Bristol Trailway Bus station in a booth:
At that time, he was working as an officer on a ship passing thru the USA; and I was a graduate student at East Tennessee State University.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Bi-Tang (碧潭)

Upstream (going south) on the Hsin-Dian creek (新店溪) from Suie-Yuan-Di, my swimming place, lies an old scenic spot, Bi-Tang. It was then, in the 1950's, already quite famous. We went there on special occasions, such as class outings, or for group picnics. I am sure that I will talk about this place later in this blog. It is better to let you see it first here. There is a hanging bridge, which swings even without the wind. There are places for a short walk or a long hike. You could always rent a boat to row yourself or have someone take you around in a boat by the hour. Of course, there are a lot of restaurants and small eating cafes for ice cream and fruits. You can easily get there from Suie-Yuan-Di, in half an hour by train or bus, or by taxi now. I want to remind you that there were no taxis when I was growing up in Taiwan!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Suie-Yuan-Di (水源地)

Suie-Yuan-Di literally means water-source-place in Chinese. It was a short stretch on the Hsin-Dian creek. This was the place I learned to swim, to dive, and, eventually, to practice my long-distance swimming. Starting in 1950, I was there when I was in town at least once a week because of its location:

The blue dot was where my home was located; the red-dot marks the gate of National Taiwan University; the gray area represents NTU; and the black-dot was my swimming area. It was a beautiful place. The city water intake pumps were located on the left-side in the rocky area (see picture below). There was another rocky pile on the right-side of this picture which I think was used to dam the water to assure an adequate supply of water for the city was stored in the creek. It was not designated as a scenic spot then, as it is today. There were quite a number of people swimming there beside myself. Once in a while, you could get someone to ferry you across if you wanted to explore the wilderness on the other side. There was no "beach" along the shore, it was pretty rocky, I remember. I do not know why we were allowed to swim at the water source place. Maybe they just did not know better, certainly they did not have to worry about terrorist!

This water source facility was built to supply running water for this part of Taipei City in 1909. The originally survey and plan were done by a William K. Burton of Edinburg, Scotland. He was a civil engineer who was teaching at the University of Tokyo in 1896. Taiwan was given to Japan in 1895, after so many western countries started to split China into pieces. Burton spent three years completing his plan to provide running water and an underground sewage system for Taipei city. He died of Malaria at 44. His project was finally finished 10 years later.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On the Way to School

Most of Banqiao Junior High School students lived in Taipei at that time (out of 46 in my class, 42 lived in Taipei City). Therefore, we all had the train ride experience. Generally, you walk to the train station from your own home individually and, after the train ride, we walked together from Banqiao station to school. For me each stretch was about one mile, maybe slightly more. I walked this path twice every school day, for a total of four miles.

Let me tell you a bit about what you would see if you walked with me early in the morning. At every street corner there would be a breakfast stand. You could buy something to eat there on the street, or carry it with you, wrapped in paper, to eat on your way. There were quite a number of varieties of choices as you can see in the picture below.

As you can see, the vendors really tried to get you to buy their wares. However, I usually ate my breakfast at home. It was only when my Father was not at home to prepare my breakfast that I was given some money to taste what I considered "fancy stuff". We arrived at Banqiao Rail Station just slightly before 8:00am. Since that was the only train in the morning which arrived at the right time, everyone was on it. So the school would have someone there to make us all line up and walk to school in marching formation. After school, students left at different times, depending on their schedule and which train they wanted to take so that they could match their parents' schedule. We would wander freely to the station on our own. 

When I got to my home station after school, I generally did not walk home immediately or directly. With friends, I would go to swim, to visit some book stores, or to play some basketball on National Taiwan University courts. Further, there were other vendors around in the afternoon. We could have roasted dried squid, sparrows, or corn. Of course, we had a lot of shaved ice cones or ice sticks to cool ourselves down after exercises. Or we would get some tough sugar cane to chew!
There were a lot of cut fruits for sale on the streets too. But my parents had given us strict order not to buy them, and we never did!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Train Ride to School

The train ride to Banqiao Junior High School took about 50 minutes each way. For three years, every school day, I had to get up very early at 6:00 am. Since Mother was not an early riser, Father would cook or warm up my boiled rice, which I ate with a few items such as pickles, peanuts and/or leftover dishes, for breakfast. He also prepared a box lunch for me to take along in my bag. I would then walk to the train station, which was about 1 mile away, across from National Taiwan University's main gate, to catch a train at 7:10am. The first stretch took about 40 minutes, on what we called a narrow-gauge train, to Wanhua (万华). Then I would transfer to a regular train. See map below:

we lived at 1, I transferred at 2, and Banqiao Junior High is at 3.

The difference between a regular train and a narrow gauge train is the width of the track.

The narrow gauge train is cheaper to operate, and convenient to build. All male students learned how to jump up onto or down from the train while it was moving quickly. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

My Long-An Education was not good enough!

My last two years of primary school education was at Long-an. In the fifties, and today, the education in Taiwan is following the 6-3-3-4 system; that is: we have 6 years of primary school, 3 years of junior high, 3 years of senior high and 4 years of college. In 1950, the compulsory education was only 6 years; you had to take an entrance examination at every stage to proceed to the next level. Today, the compulsory education has been extended by three more years. Therefore, you no longer need to take an entrance exam in order to attend junior high school. In 1951, I graduated from Long-an elementary school where I was second in my class. My parents were quite proud of my record. My father told me that I should have no problem in taking the entrance examination and that I would surely be able to enter some junior high school in the city. Clearly, with many adults telling me so, I was full of confidence that I should be able to go to a city high school the following fall!

In late August, I took an entrance exam for one school after another in the heat of the Taiwan summer. I do not even remember now how many exams I took. My parents were sure that I would be accepted by some school! A week or so after an exam, each high school would post the names of students who had passed the exams and been admitted to the school; some students names were also listed on the waiting list. I went to the post of every school and my name was not on any of the lists. It did not matter how many times I read the posts, I just could not find my name anywhere. It was terrible; I lost all my confidence. The reality sank heavily into every cell of my body. In April of the next year, I wrote in my memory book the word "SWEAR", meaning that I vowed "never again" to have that empty feeling!

My father found in the Newspaper that there was one more junior high school in the county (outside Taipei City) advertising for students to register for its entrance examination. This was my last chance to continue my education that year. Otherwise I would have to wait for the next year's entrance exams and do this all over again! The school was Ban-qiao junior high. You had to take two trains (with one transfer) to get there, and it took about 45 minutes from my home to get there - each way. I took the entrance exam without any confidence at that point. The week after the exam was tough; I had to wait as quietly as I could at home. When the time came to see the posting of the list, again I went with my father and there was quite a crowd there under the list. He found my name first, and I had to make sure that it was exactly my name with every stroke properly included. I would be a junior high school student after all!

Since it was clear than Long-an"s education just did not prepare me properly, Dean was transferred to another school the next fall!

Sunday, July 11, 2010


As people grow older they naturally have more memories. This is not a treasured gift possessed only by human beings. But since only human being possess another talent, to record what he or she remembers, the combination makes them unique, and powerful. This year is the 50th anniversary of when the book "To Kill a Mocking Bird" was published. Harper Lee put her remembrances into a story that resonates with the feelings of readers world-wide. The book became almost an instant "classic". Memory is more than history; the laughs and the tears of life are always mingled with the facts. The details of historic facts are important academically, but few people enjoy studying just the factual record.

I found the website for my primary school: It is all in Chinese, of course, and it is quite good. Apparently, some class pictures have been collected. Many individual pictures of past principals and yearly group pictures of faculty and staff have also been collected on the web. I got very excited about the chance to check my memory. Unfortunately, there is not one picture of my graduating class (1951). There is a picture of the principal of my year but I have no memory of that image at all!

The following is a picture of faculty and staff for the year 1950, one year before I graduated. The surprising thing is that there is only one single teacher that I could recognize in the picture. And he was the one who taught "Physical Education" class and punished the whole class once with a bamboo stick taken from a broom! It is clear that very few teachers at that time taught classes at different levels during the same year. The teachers who taught me followed our class for at least two or three years. Thus, since there is no picture of the '51 Class, I can find no pictures of my teachers on the web. 

It was kind of funny to see the Class of '50 teachers lined up there to have their picture taken wearing mostly white colored clothes. In my memory, clothes have no color. I remember facial expressions but not colors. Do you remember what color clothes your mother wore when you were 12? Somehow, our memories have automatic switches to select what we remember. Most dreams are colorless, I was told. But how about memory? Have you asked yourself this question? Are all our memories facts or part of our imagination? I am not sure!


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hwei-Ge (慧 哥)

Ge-ge (哥哥) in Chinese means older brother. Hwei-ge is actually my cousin, a female cousin; and she is from my mother's side. Her mother was my mother's sister, who was the one that gave my mother three silver dollars so that my mother could get an education to start with. Hwei-ge was one of the two cousins who later came out from the countryside with my mother in order to get an education. In short, she was with my mother since she was a teenager! To me, she was there from the start, she has always been a family member. To call her a brother is to try to say that she is even closer than a sister. That was, at least, the Chinese thinking!

In 1950, she was considered too old to get into a University again. So she started to work at National Taiwan University as an accounting clerk. She was staying then at the University girls' dormitory on campus and waiting for a permanent place to be built for single University female employees. We started to chat quite a bit to each other. I told her about all my girlfriends, and she talked to me about all the single males who were interested in her. Since she has always been a very attractive lady (see picture below), there were always a lot of males around her. Just like the bees around some flowers.

I do not remember on what occasion we went out to take a picture together in 1951. Here it is: my favorite "older brother":


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Girl Classmates

Primary schools were all co-educational during that period in the 1950's. As soon as one enters high school, all high schools, both junior and senior for a total of six years, became either all male or all female. It is clear that, right or wrong, the Chinese educational system was avoiding the problems generated by the growing-up years from 12 to 18, the exact period when human beings recognize the sex differences and when hormones are produced to stimulate other human needs. During the last two years of my primary school, it was clear that I started to recognize the male-female differences. I played with boys in all kinds of sports. The only time we encountered girls was in classrooms, and occasionally during swimming.

During that time, I tried swimming in a river nearby. It is called the Water-Source place (水源地). This is where Taipei City water came from. The water was then crystal clear; you could see small fish swimming everywhere. There was no place for changing clothes so we learned to change very quickly in public, using very small Chinese towels, which are about the size of one fifth of a regular western bath towel and much thinner. The beach was full of stones, which made walking difficult. I learned to swim there quickly, by watching others and talking with older swimmers. One girl classmate was a regular swimmer there. Her name was Xia Yu-drun (夏玉春). You can see in the picture below that she was under the sun quite a bit, as she was darker than most of the other girls. She noticed that I had to take off all my clothes to change into swim pants. So she made a swim pants for me so that I could slide up one side of the pants from one leg and button it up the other side of my hip, thus putting on swim pants without taking off the outside pants first. She was way ahead of us! 

There was no ceremony when we graduated from primary school. Almost everyone had a Memory book to circulate among his or her favorite friends and teachers to write a few words to remember this period in life. Sometimes a picture was exchanged. I kept another picture of a girl in my class; her name was Chen Yi (陈怡). She was our class beauty, who lived very close to my home. Her parents were very strict; we really did not have much communication of any kind. I do not know how many pictures she gave out when she graduated but it's clear that my mother kept everything including her picture here!